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Why active travel is so important for communities

Mark Kemp, chair of ADEPT’s Transport and Connectivity Board, explains more about the policy position and how active travel is so important for communities.

Active travel traditionally refers to non-motorised forms of transport that involve physical activity, such as walking, cycling and manual scooting, but it can also include public transport for longer distance trips as these generally include walking or cycling components.

Active travel brings many obvious benefits to the environment – the Committee on Climate Change recognised that is an essential element of the transition to a net-zero carbon economy, by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and improving air quality.

Whilst this is true, it also generates health, economic, and social benefits, can contribute to improved wellbeing and help to prevent or manage a range of chronic health conditions. It can also contribute to economic performance by reducing congestion. Active travel is, therefore, a vital component of the transport solution.

ADEPT began working on an Active Travel policy position at the end of 2019, together with stakeholders including Public Health England, Association of Directors of Public Health and Sustrans.

It was initially a response to the climate change emergency declarations made by local authorities, but just a few months later, the world changed.

The social distancing measures introduced as a result of Covid-19 resulted in changes to how we travel, with unprecedented levels of walking and cycling across the UK.

ADEPT want to sustain this change by promoting active travel throughout our communities.

Active travel is, and should continue to be, a top priority for policymakers and planners. Local authorities already have tools available to assist with this, including refocusing budgets, linking to climate emergency declarations, and leading by example.

Measures already brought in by councils have focused on locations with high footfall and narrow footways – those that have presented a challenge for enabling social distancing.

Local authorities have also introduced reduced waiting times at pedestrian crossings, installing temporary roadworks and signage, and reallocating road space.

Despite the significant uptake of active travel during the lockdown and its relaxation phases, we know that our members also need to further develop their training and promotional work.

It is not just about physical measures and we need to encourage the public to select active travel more often. Working with behavioural change experts we can help to deliver enhanced project outcomes that help people make the appropriate travel choice for the journey they are making.

ADEPT recognises that a major challenge to active travel is public perception. We need to consider all groups of society, looking at barriers to active travel and consider how it can become the normal, accepted way to move around. However, there is an opportunity to tap into people who want to embrace this change – we need to provide facilities and infrastructure for this growing group of people, who want to use active travel more frequently.

Critically, we need to persuade people that they need to embrace active travel as one of their journey options if we are to reduce obesity and make the significant contribution that transport must make to the 2050 climate target.

We cannot rely on the emergence of electric and hydrogen-powered vehicles alone, and we must win the argument that active travel is the most sustainable option, which will make a huge contribution to climate targets.

Another challenge is around funding. Whilst the government announced significant funding for active travel, local authorities need to make sure that they are positioned to take advantage of this.

This needs to include working with other stakeholders and their communities to understand their needs and may include identifying key gaps in existing active travel networks, identifying areas where more generous facilities are needed, and delivering new infrastructure.

There is also a need for government to play a central role in championing active travel and provide leadership at a national level.

Additionally, there is a need to put the right policies and long-term funding (both capital and revenue) in place to enable local authorities to undertake behavioural and promotional work as well as develop, deliver and maintain the supporting infrastructure.

Embedding active travel into the way we move around has so much potential to change our lives for the better, with numerous benefits for the environment, our health and the economy.

We need to be brave now with our transport network and ensure these changes become a permanent, viable component of the transport solution.

The Active Travel policy position can be found on the ADEPT website.

More information about ADEPT can be found on its website.
• More information about ADEPT’s work on climate change can be found here. 
• The Active Travel policy position can be found on the ADEPT website.


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